It might have been 75 years to the day that the state of Kansas officially chartered the Douglas County Historical Society, but when members met Saturday, their focus was very much on the future, not the past.
And members of the historical society — which oversees the Watkins Community Museum of History — had a lot to consider at the annual meeting where officers were elected, yearly updates given and a silent auction conducted during a dinner at the museum.
In the past year, the historical society dismissed the museum’s director and brought on a part-time interim director.
It hired consultants — with the help of a grant from Douglas County — to develop a long-range plan for the museum.
And in June, the museum was one of 19 locations in Kansas to be designated as a state historic partnership site, which makes it eligible for the sale and distribution of state tax credits.
In her speech to the members, Phyllis Tiffany, who was re-elected as chair of the board, spoke of the need to reorganize the museum.
In the past few years, the historical society has seen a decrease in both membership and income.
“Something must be addressed here,” Tiffany said. “We also as an organization have to look very hard at what historical museums are and what they should become in the 21st century.”
As the night’s keynote speaker, Judge Deanell Reece Tacha encouraged members to look for ways to join the regional effort in creating a national heritage area that highlights eastern Kansas and western Missouri’s involvement in the run-up to and fighting of the Civil War.
With its rich history, Lawrence could be a focal point for the Freedom’s Frontier National Heritage Area, Tacha said.
The heritage area includes 41 counties.
“No one can do it all. Partnering, it seems to me, is so good for all of us,” Tacha said. “And it could be the tipping point for the museum and perhaps the story it is trying to tell.”